Everyone deserves competent counsel, Kennedy says after acquittal

Most of us would like to believe that if we’re wrongly accused of a crime, our chances of acquittal won’t be affected by the salary we earn or the number of friends we have in high places. In the realm of criminal defense, everyone deserves to be held to the same standards, and judged based on solid evidence and the true facts of the case. One public figure argued this point recently after being found not guilty at trial.

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was arrested in July 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired by drugs. She was witnessed swerving in her car just before sideswiping another vehicle, and was eventually found asleep in her car. Kennedy admitted to taking a sleeping pill before getting behind the wheel, but explained she’d mistaken the drug for a prescribed thyroid medication.

To avoid marring her reputation and career as a human rights activist, she turned down the plea agreement offered to her and instead elected to go to trial. It was not a decision she took lightly, considering the potential sentence of a year in jail and other consequences of a guilty verdict. As the president of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, she would have been unable to carry out her duties — including traveling outside the country.

Given her famous family connections, it wasn’t surprising when many said that Kennedy received favorable treatment in court. At the same time, her own attorneys argued that prosecutors wouldn’t have pushed for a trial if not for her name. Kennedy disagrees with both notions, arguing that she won her case because she was innocent and had competent attorneys representing her. During an appearance on the “Today” show, she said that everyone should have access to the same caliber of legal counsel, no matter who they are.

North Carolinians may differ over whether Kennedy was acquitted due to her name or her innocence, but one thing we can all agree on is that anyone accused of a crime deserves a fair shot at defending themselves. This means having a skilled and passionate criminal defense attorney who has the defendant’s best interests in mind. No one should feel pressured to take a plea deal for a crime they didn’t commit simply because they don’t have the financial or societal resources of a wealthy public figure.